WASHINGTON — The firing of FBI Director James Comey took members of Congress by surprise and sparked renewed calls on both sides of the aisle for an independent prosecutor to take the helm of the investigation into potential collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.
Comey was reportedly talking with agents at the FBI Field Office today when he learned by glancing up at the TV that he had been fired.
The leader of one of the congressional panels conducting a Russia investigation, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.), said he was “troubled by the timing and reasoning of Director Comey’s termination.” Administration officials linked the firing to Comey usurping Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s authority last summer by holding a press conference on the results of the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails.
“I have found Director Comey to be a public servant of the highest order, and his dismissal further confuses an already difficult investigation by the committee,” Burr said. “In my interactions with the director and with the Bureau under his leadership, he and the FBI have always been straightforward with our committee.”
“Director Comey has been more forthcoming with information than any FBI director I can recall in my tenure on the congressional intelligence committees. His dismissal, I believe, is a loss for the Bureau and the nation.”
The top Democrat on the committee, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), called Comey’s termination “shocking… during an active counterintelligence investigation into improper contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia.”
“The administration insists there’s no ‘there there,’ yet President Trump has so far fired the acting attorney general, nearly every U.S. attorney, and now the director of the FBI. In addition, this president’s choice for attorney general has been forced to recuse himself, and the national security advisor has resigned, as a result of undisclosed contacts with Russian officials,” Warner added.
“Now more than ever, it is vital that our ongoing investigation is completed in a credible and bipartisan way. We also need to hear directly from former Director Comey about the FBI investigation and related events.”
Comey had been scheduled to appear at an open Thursday Senate Intelligence hearing with other intel community leaders on worldwide threats.
Warner called for the appointment of a special counsel as “the only way the American people will be able to trust the results of any DOJ investigation” and “the only way this administration can begin to demonstrate a commitment to the rule of law.”
Other lawmakers echoed the call for a special prosecutor or simply called for an investigation free of politics.
“While the case for removal of Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey laid out by Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein was thorough, his removal at this particular time will raise questions,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said in a statement. “It is essential that ongoing investigations are fulsome and free of political interference until their completion, and it is imperative that President Trump nominate a well-respected and qualified individual to lead the bureau at this critical time.”
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) conceded that Trump “has the legal authority” to remove Comey, but said he’s “disappointed” in the president’s decision.
“James Comey is a man of honor and integrity, and he has led the FBI well in extraordinary circumstances,” McCain said. “I have long called for a special congressional committee to investigate Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. The president’s decision to remove the FBI director only confirms the need and the urgency of such a committee.”
At a press conference on Capitol Hill, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Trump called him this afternoon and told him he was firing Comey. “I told the president, ‘Mr. President, with all due respect, you are making a big mistake,'” Schumer said.
“If the administration had objections to the way Director Comey handled the Clinton investigation, they had those objections the minute the president got into office. But they didn’t fire him then. Why did it happen today?” Schumer continued. “We know that the House is investigating Russian interference in our election that benefited the Trump campaign. We know the Senate is investigating. We know the FBI has been looking into whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians — a very serious offense. Were those investigations getting too close to home for the president?”
He called it “troubling” that Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who had recused himself from the Russia investigation, “played a role in firing the man leading it.”
Schumer said the investigation “must be run as far away as possible from this White House and as far away as possible from anyone that President Trump has appointed.”
“If Deputy Attorney General [Rod] Rosenstein does not appoint an independent special prosecutor, every American will rightly suspect that the decision to fire Director Comey was part of a cover-up,” he added.
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Congress “has a responsibility to seek answers” to determine “whether there was any political motivation or conflict of interest underlying this decision.”
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said in a statement that “any suggestion that today’s announcement is somehow an effort to stop the FBI’s investigation of Russia’s attempt to influence the election last fall is misplaced.”
“The president did not fire the entire FBI; he fired the director. I have every confidence that the FBI will continue to pursue its investigation,” she said. “In addition, I am certain that the Senate Intelligence Committee, on which I serve, will continue its own bipartisan investigation and will follow the evidence wherever it leads.”